During the opening night of his co-headlining tour with Mary J. Blige, Jay-Z repeatedly reminded the audience at Miami’s American Airlines Arena that they were watching a once in a lifetime show. This wasn’t entirely true, as Saturday night marked the opening of the ten-date trek dubbed the “Heart of the City” tour. But it was a rallying cry during the occasional energy lapses of a production that was star- and hit-studded, if not always technically sound.
The show kicked off with both headliners onstage, silhouetted against a shifting video screen, posed atop a series of LED-bedecked risers, and surrounded by a band big enough to match Jay-Z’s ego — some twenty-two musicians. After a revue-style rendition of “Can’t Knock the Hustle,” Jigga graciously ceded the stage to Mary. She performed for almost an hour, radiating her humble around-the-way-chick vibe. The added instrumentation proved particularly kind to her set list, which served as a catalog of the staggering number of hits in her song book: “Real Love,” “Not Gon’ Cry,” and “I’m Going Down,” among others. The performance was only marred by the erratic appearance of a few backup dancers (most notably during “Your Child”) whose choreography was a bizarre, overacted pantomime.
Then it was time for Jay-Z. Jigga stuck to what he knew: though his between-song patter was mumbled, he let the songs speak for themselves. The beginning of the set comprised material from American Gangster, and the orchestra fit the material’s retro swing. Then he pulled out the big guns: special guests Memphis Bleek, Timbaland, Young Jeezy and even Kanye West (complete with white slatted shades and a marching band jacket) for duets on “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and “Good Life.” That, along with renditions of classics like “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” and “Big Pimpin’,” drove the crowd to its collective feet. For the finale, the whole show swung back to square one with the Jay/Blige duet “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love).” Grandiose, anthemic, and pyrotechnic-punctuated, it was a reminder that in 2008, you still can’t knock these megastars’ hustle.
For more photos from the opening night of the “Heart of the City” tour, click here.